In the pantheon of great Burmese writers from the 20th century, one stands tall above all others. The unofficial literature laureate of the Bama, a typesetter, a playwright, a journalist, a poet and a novelist, Thakin Kodaw Hmaing straddled two literary worlds …
The realm of traditional, time-honoured classical forms and the revisionist, modernism which he supported but never embraced in his own work. A nationalist to his core, he supported and patronised many of the early 1920’s writers and politicians, who looked to him for guidance and legitimacy.
The Kandawmin Garden Mausolea honours four great citizens, two men and two women. Daw Khin Kyi, ambassador and wife of General Aung San. Queen Supalayat, the last Royal consort. U Thant, the former UN General Secretary. And Thakin Kodaw Hmaing.
The plot of land for the four mausoleums was granted, begrudgingly, by General Ne Win. Dying only two years after the military coup in 1962, Thakin Kodaw Hmaing’s presence was still strong enough for the dictator Ne Win to both fear his influence and the need to legitimise his rule in the minds of the public by honouring the writer they admired so much. (Indeed his fears were to come true, when he initially denied U Thant the honour of the mausoleum, the subsequent student riots and crackdown were some of the largest and most violent in Myanmar’s history)
Thakin Kodaw Hmaing’s mausoleum features, fittingly enough, a book – for prowess in literature; a peacock – for his contribution to the independence struggle; and a peace dove – for his public denunciations of the conflicts that riddled the fledgling nation in the 1950’s.
The Kadawmin Garden, though gifted by the union government, was often ignored by them; its position as a locale or catalyst of protest, ensured its demise. Even today the garden is not that easy to find, though a recent restoration and new appreciation for the architectural design of the mausoleums themselves has helped in its revival.
Address: Kandawmin Garden Mausolea, Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Yangon, Myanmar